Germany's jobless rate rises to 4.8m

On the day the unemployment rate hit a new post-war record in Germany, a jobless rally in Cologne, an industrial city of a million people, mustered 300 participants. More than 200 towns and cities were to be flooded by protesters inspired by the French movement. In the end, most were cancelled, owing to lack of interest.

"It's more difficult to organise anything here than in France," said Dietmar Koplow, who worked in a tractor factory until he was laid off last April. "Political consciousness in Germany is too feeble, and the unemployed are a bit shy."

The unions behind the day of action, to be repeated once a month until election day in September, had better luck in Berlin, where 3,000 noisy supporters besieged the local job centre. In Frankfurt, 400 people staged an occupation at the local welfare office. But crowds elsewhere were small and docile, as in Cologne, where most of the participants were leftist students anxious to hurry home from the cold. They circled the building once, set fire to an effigy, and dispersed.

In many towns, notably in Bonn, where the opposition and government clashed over the issue of unemployment, no one would volunteer to go out into the streets. From the organisers' point of view, things can only get better. Perhaps people will take notice when the magic figure of 5 million is breached, possibly next month.

With 302,000 more jobless in January than in the previous month, the headline unemployment figure stood yesterday at 4.82 million. The latest statistics also show the gap between east and west is widening.